Over the next month or so, we’ll be looking at each of the Jets’ draft picks and undrafted free agent signings in detail. We being today with a breakdown of their second pick, Jachai Polite.
Polite, a 21-year old edge defender out of Florida, is listed at 6’3” and 258 pounds. He was a first-team all-SEC selection in 2018 as he racked up 11 sacks and led the nation with six forced fumbles. Having been a projected first-round pick for much of the pre-draft process, his stock sank after some poor workout numbers and reports of bad interviews and the Jets selected him in the third round.
Polite was recruited to play college football at Florida, having attended high school in-state. He racked up 13 sacks in his senior year and was brought in as a 230-pound defensive end.
His first two seasons didn’t establish Polite as a top prospect as he was mostly a rotational player in his first year and then saw his second season cut short due to injury. He headed into his junior year with four career sacks.
However, in 2018, he broke out with career highs in tackles (45), sacks (11) and forced fumbles (six, to lead the nation). At the end of the season, he declared his intention to enter the draft.
Polite was widely regarded as a possible top-10 pick until he posted disappointing numbers in his combine workout. However, it was his reportedly poor interviews that really damaged his stock. With a chance to improve on his combine workout at his pro day, his stock fell further as his numbers were even worse.
The Jets selected Polite in the third round, with the 68th pick of the draft.
Let’s take a closer look at what Polite brings to the table, divided into categories.
Prior to the 2018 season, Polite had been heavier and was considered to have gained some speed but lost some strength when he dropped back to 240-245 for his junior year.
Polite’s poor workout numbers are thought to have been caused by the fact that he re-added almost 20 pounds before the combine and was said to be in poor shape.
His 4.84 40-yard dash and 32-inch vertical were down near the bottom for his position and he pulled out of the remaining drills with a hamstring injury that caused further skepticism.
At his pro day, his 40-yard dash was even worse (5.04 seconds) and his bench press and three-cone drill (7.59) were also poor.
Based on his film, however, Polite has good burst and explosiveness, but doesn’t demonstrate much in the way of functional strength.
Polite played almost all of his snaps in his breakout 2018 season as an outside linebacker. He had played a lot more with his hand in the dirt in his first two seasons, including some reps on the defensive interior in his freshman year.
When he’s on, Polite’s motor can be incredible as there are plenty of impressive examples on film of him chasing downfield or across the field in pursuit.
However, his motor would be best described as inconsistent as there are sometimes examples of him slowing up when plays go away from him or shying away from contact.
He played 63 snaps against LSU last year but otherwise has only played more than 50 one other time, so his ability to handle a starter’s workload may be in question.
Polite has one of the most refined pass rushing approaches from this year’s class. He doesn’t over-rely on core moves, shows an ability to counter and attacks with effort.
While he racked up 11 sacks last year, his pressure percentage was solid but not great. However, a review of his film shows that his assignment often required him to play pocket contain rather than fire out of his stance and go after the quarterback.
Polite’s primary weapon is how explosive he is out of his stance and he seems to be good at timing up the snap count.
Most of Polite’s success as a pass rusher comes from his speed around the edge and he has that ability to dip-and-bend to get consistent pressure around the edge that the Jets have been sorely lacking in recent seasons.
He’s less effective at generating a bull rush or making a speed-to-power move, although the threat of speed off the edge does allow him to get his man off balance for inside counters.
Aside from his 11 sacks last season, Polite had another 8.5 tackles for loss, so he does make plays against the run.
Again, his ability to explode out of his stance is an asset, whether he uses it to shoot gaps or get unblocked into the backfield.
He’s at his best coming downhill or when he stays at home, but less effective when required to take on blocks at the point of attack, as he can sometimes get controlled easily if a big lineman gets his hands on him.
Polite can struggle to get off blocks without giving ground, but seems to know his limitations and at least plays with good discipline most of the time.
Polite’s most effective pass rush moves are those where he’s keeping his blocker from getting his hands on him, so he seems to enjoy his best success on swipe, chop or jab moves.
He also has an effective spin move, although he could arguably be more selective about when to use it and how he sets it up. When he gets it right, this move is deadly and could be even better with some coaching refinements.
His hand work needs some work, both in terms of his ability to fight off blocks and in his aggression while keeping his man off him.
Polite has a terrific knack for forcing fumbles as he consistently goes after the ball when in range. As noted he led the nation with six forced fumbles last season.
He’s an effective player than can wrap ball carriers up and haul them down and has excellent closing speed so he can extend to trip or corral players who are out of his reach. He had several missed tackles in 2017 although these didn’t usually lead to much extra yardage and his tackle percentage was much better in his junior year.
As noted, he has an occasional tendency to shy away from contact, which will see him leaving his teammates to make a play rather than getting in on the pile.
Polite did drop off the line and into coverage from time to time in the 2018 season and also batted down two passes at the line of scrimmage.
On this play, he dropped off the line and pursued the receiver to the outside to make a tackle for loss.
Polite is capable of making good reads and will usually keep his head up when rushing or taking on blockers so he is able to react.
He also seems to handle read options and misdirection-type plays really well and shows good discipline to stay in his lane against the run.
His awareness can sometimes be lacking when he encounters a chip-block or down-block and he didn’t realize there was a loose ball here.
Polite jumped offside twice in 2018, which is a surprisingly low number given how he tries to read the snap count.
Polite didn’t contribute much on special teams in college as he didn’t register a tackle, blocked kick or penalty. He never played on the coverage units but was employed as a blocker and to rush kicks.
There have been concerns among teams about Polite’s attitude and maturity, although it’s worth noting that several Florida players were suspended for various reasons over the past few years and he was not among them. He was even a team captain at times.
He drew some negative attention during the pre-draft process because he showed up out of shape and some were skeptical over whether his hamstring troubles were genuine or just a convenient excuse. Complaining about teams bashing him during interviews at his combine press conference didn’t help matters either.
On the field, he’s been disciplined with only three penalties in his career, but he shows fire and tenacity between the lines.
Polite only played seven games in his sophomore year after having suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.
Otherwise, injuries haven’t been an issue for him - aside from the controversy over his hamstring issues at the combine.
The Jets’ biggest need was for a pass rusher that can bring consistent pressure off the edge. Hopefully, Polite can at least start off as a designated pass rusher to upgrade the Jets’ pressure packages in passing situations.
In the longer team, the Jets will hope that Polite will be able to establish himself as being able to hold up against the run so that he can become a full-time starter.
Polite is a talented player and has the potential to provide the Jets with an outstanding return on their third-round pick.
The Jets will be hopeful that the concerns over his character and athleticism are overblown. If so, he could provide an immediate upgrade to the pass rush. The next stage will then be to further refine his conditioning, strength and technique so that he can develop into a full time starter.